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Worst Food Ingredient for Immune System Health

Original Interview: John Adams, Reporter-Journalist
Writer This Article: Hope Langevin
Editor: Doug Elliot
Associate Editor: Helen Jahn
Date: November 4, 2022

Some food ingredients, such as additives, and preservatives, may be wreaking havoc on your immune system. We do some research for you, so you know which ones to avoid in your diet. Read further to learn about the worst food ingredient for immune system health.

What are food additives and preservatives?

There’s nothing new about people wanting to experiment with making food taste better or last longer. Natural food additives have been used for centuries; for example, preserving food by pickling with vinegar, salting (curing) as with bacon or beef jerky, and using sugar to preserve whole fruits or in jams and jellies. However, problems seem to arise when we move away from natural substances to chemicals created in laboratories.

Scientists classify food additives into four basic categories: nutritional additives, processing agents, preservatives, and sensory agents (taste, smell).
The FDA regulates food additives used during processing or preparation. These chemical substances are used in processed and convenience foods to:

  • Extend shelf life
  • Prevent spoilage
  • Improve flavor
  • Improve color or texture
  • Prevent liquid products from separating

Food additives are found in everything from bread to soda; most were approved by the FDA decades ago. According to Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG (Environmental Working Group), the FDA doesn’t consider new science to reassess potentially harmful food ingredients.

"Food manufacturers have no incentive to change their formulas," said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG. "Too often, the FDA allows the food and chemical industry to determine which ingredients are safe for consumption. Our research shows how important it is that the FDA take a second look at these ingredients and test all food chemicals for safety."

Four of the most used food ingredients are the worst for immune system health.

With more than 3,000 substances - (including natural and chemical) used as food additives in the United States, we’re choosing four of the most used in mass-produced processed and convenience foods. The first three are preservatives, and the last one, a commonly used sweetener, gets our vote as the worst food ingredient for immune system health.

Let’s start with these three preservatives:

TBHQ (tert-butylhydroquinone and tertiary butylhydroquinone)

Bha (butylated hydroxyanisole)

Bht (butylated hydroxytoluene)

Bha, Bht, and Tbhq are added to processed foods to extend shelf life. Their antioxidant properties work well to delay the spoilage of foods containing fats and oils, such as cheese, butter, chips, and dry cereals. They’re also in food packaging, medicines, cosmetics, animal feed, petroleum, and rubber goods.

Preserving food is sometimes necessary and helpful. Unfortunately, recent research shows these preservatives may be harming more than helping human health. TBHQ, in particular, appears to affect the immune system negatively. Here’s what’s been discovered:

Research studies imply that Bha may cause Endocrine dysfunction.

Studies indicate that Bht may cause behavioral issues in children and disrupt thyroid function. It can also create liver issues, cause weight gain and contribute to cell death.

A 2021 study using non-animal test results indicates that “TBHQ affected immune cell proteins at doses similar to those that cause harm in traditional studies. Earlier studies have found that TBHQ might influence how well flu vaccines work and may be linked to a rise in food allergies.”

It can also create liver issues, cause weight gain and contribute to cell death. .Clean food advocates are making the case that there are better and safer ways to preserve food naturally. In the meantime, avoiding these preservatives whenever possible can contribute to your overall better health.

And now, we turn our attention to the worst food ingredient for immune system health, high fructose corn syrup.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): a not-so-sweet topic among nutritionists and food scientists

A much-heated controversy has gone on for years about the effects of HFCS on human health. That controversy is primarily about whether the body handles high-fructose corn syrup differently than table sugar.

While some people claim that HFCS is chemically similar to table sugar Dr. Axe Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CN, disagrees:

High fructose corn syrup is also called glucose-fructose, isoglucose, and glucose-fructose syrup.Some people, especially the companies producing and using HFCS, like to say that it’s no different from regular sugar. But that’s just not true. HFCS contains more fructose than table sugar, which is a dangerous difference.”

The FDA's website states: “HFCS is ‘high’ in fructose compared to the pure glucose that is in corn syrup.” It seems they agree with Dr. Axe.

How is HFCS made?
Step one: processors make syrup from corn starch – which is almost 100% glucose (a simple sugar). Step two is to add enzymes to the corn syrup to change some of the glucose into fructose (another simple sugar).

But fructose is natural and safe, right?

Sure, if consumed in normal quantities from natural sources (i.e., fruit), but high fructose corn syrup contains a lot of fructose – which makes it the worst food ingredient for immune system health, and here’s why:

A 2019 study indicates that this higher concentration of fructose is a problem for the immune system.
Researchers found that fructose causes substantial immune system inflammation and impairs its
functioning. The impaired functioning is due to an increase in the production of reactive inflammatory cytokines causing cell and tissue damage and the malfunctioning of organs and systems — leading to disease.

Where will you find HFCS: the worst food ingredient for immune system health?

HFCS has been used by food manufacturers in the United States since the 1970s as a sugar substitute because of its sweetness (as sweet as sugar), chemical stability (easy to use), and low cost. It’s in a multitude of processed food products, including:

  • Soda
  • Packaged sweets
  • Candy
  • Juice drinks
  • Fast food
  • Sauces and other condiments
  • Ice cream and ice pops
  • Breakfast foods
  • Fruit preserves and jams
  • Bread and crackers (refined carb products)
  • Pancake syrup and dessert syrup
  • Applesauce

How to counteract the effects of the worst food ingredient for immune system health (HFCS)

You can successfully avoid consuming a lot of HFCS by eating natural, whole foods, avoiding the junk food isles at your market, reading labels on packaged goods, and minimizing processed foods in your diet. If you enjoy using a sweetener, opp for real cane sugar, maple syrup, or honey.

Because it can be challenging to eat healthy fresh food every day, you might consider using natural supplements to reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune system. Here are a few of the best naturally occurring substances that benefit the immune system:

  • Prebiotics and probiotics help rebuild and nourish gut microbiota.
  •  Turmeric, a popular spice used in curry, contains curcumin, well known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
  • A PubMed study shows that olive leaf extract is a potent source of antioxidants that support your immune system.
  • Boswellia is a tree native to India, Africa, and Arabia; its resin is used as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Another study discusses how oregano improves immune system functions.

HelloHealth, a standout health and wellness company, offers a line of immune support supplements. Their plant-based products are lab-tested, gluten-free, sugar-free, non-GMO, and Vegan. Their ImmunoStrong supplement contains Turmeric, Oregano, Olive Leaf Extract, Boswellia, Omega 3, and other immune-supporting minerals, herbs, and spices. HelloHealth® is guided by an advisory board composed of leaders and medical experts with interest and experience in health and wellness.

What’s next now that you know about the worst food Ingredient for immune system health?
If you don’t already read food labels, now is an excellent time to start. The FDA requires food manufacturers to list all ingredients, and now you’ll be able to identify at least three preservatives and high fructose corn syrup. If you consume primarily natural whole foods and consider trying an immune-boosting supplement, likely, you can occasionally enjoy your favorite processed treats without harming your immune system – go grab that Pop Tart!

For further reading:
Effects of Food Additives on Immune Cells As Contributors to Body Weight Gain and Immune-
Mediated Metabolic Dysregulation - PMC
Food Additive Status List | FDA
Chemistry of BHA and BHT Food Preservatives
High fructose diets may harm the immune system
High fructoseinduced metabolic changes enhance inflammation in human dendritic cells - PMC

Important Note: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet, fitness regimen, or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional in order to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.
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